Monday, July 09, 2012

Can a presidential challenger win by simply being the other choice?

Come on. I'm right occasionally. 

I don't know if it matters that some of the bigger names in conservative media, like Rupert Murdoch, The Wall Street Journal, and Bill Kristol, are actively criticizing what they consider a lackluster Romney campaign. Perhaps they are just trying to have some influence on Romney and can only do it by going public. Or, maybe they really are nervous that their guy may not have what it takes. I don't really care either way.

What I care about is when an argument is made that makes sense, and Bill Kristol made some sense to me on Fox News Sunday this weekend. The issue he cited was that Romney is performing worse on the economy than Obama, an issue voters rank as most important. He said:
I think the Fox News poll actually has the key to what the problem is for the Mitt Romney campaign. Do you think Barack Obama has a clear plan for improving the economy or not? Yes, 41; no 53. It's not great for an incumbent president. The economy is slow. And you're at 41-53.

Do you think his challenger, Gov. Romney, has a clear plan for improving the economy or not? Yes, 27; No. 55.

I don't think you can beat an incumbent president, even if the economy is slow, if 27 percent of the voters think as the challenger you don't have a clear plan for improving the economy.

Yesterday, I wrote about the story in which John Boehner admitted Mitt Romney wasn't the most likeable guy but, if Republicans could focus the election on the economy, that wouldn't matter. Romney could win, he said. But Kristol's point is that this isn't going to happen if most voters think Romney has no plan for the economy. Not that I want to give Romney advice, but it's not a plan to simply point out that you are the challenger in the midst of a bad economy.

Gov. Romney has made it clear that it is his intention to avoid getting into specifics about anything. He claims to have been burned in campaigns in the past by saying what he would do if elected, so he won't do that. It's a sort of "do-no-harm" campaign strategy.

But can he win by simply saying: "bad economy, bad economy, bad economy," while providing few specifics about what he would do? Not a lot of Americans are impressed with this approach to date, and conservative opinion leader Bill Kristol is among them.

There is an old line in politics that "incumbents defeat themselves," and that is frequently the case. Sometimes the challenger wins simply because the incumbent has run out of steam or made too many mistakes or has the misfortune of being in office when circumstances largely beyond anyone's control muck things up. Sometimes you only have to be the other choice to win. But usually you have to set yourself up as a plausible alternative to the incumbent and it looks like Romney is doing everything he can to fail in that regard. Beside having a reason to vote against the incumbent, people like to have a reason to vote for the challenger.

What is freaking out conservatives is that under normal circumstances, with a credible challenger, Obama should be in a lot more trouble than he is. But because, with Romney, there's no there there, Obama is doing okay.

John Boehner thinks that in the election in November Romney will win because voters will be voting against Obama, not because they will be voting for Romney.

Romney is betting his whole campaign on it, but I don't think that's going to work, and neither does Bill Kristol.

(Cross-posted at Lippmann's Ghost.)

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  • Sure, we hope it doesn't work.

    But it might.

    And it has a better chance than Romney telling people his plan for the economy is to give them the shaft, big time, for the sake of the guys who call themselves "job creators."

    By Blogger Unknown, at 7:59 AM  

  • if 27 percent of the voters think as the challenger you don't have a clear plan for improving the economy.

    But the story said that 55% of the voters don't believe he has a plan.

    By Blogger Colin Day, at 12:57 AM  

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